Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pompous posing of obtuse potpourri

Every once in a while I take some time off to read and review the art offerings that the city of New York has to offer to plebes like me and she never fails – of course, every once in a while, this exercise also raises in me a couple of chuckles. Usually, a useful primer and a gut check to understanding the art displayed would be to turn to reading some of the prose that comes along with the art show describing the artists, her/his work and relevant motivations. Of late, I have started to see that this is a futile exercise. Reason?

In my view, most of the gallery statements seem to vapid pronouncements that border on delusions of impossible situations, references to imaginary details and fairy tale like concoctions that string together impenetrable prose in an impressive sounding manner designed to hide the gallery and the artist behind a veneer of respectability...

Here is a recent example of prose accompanying an ongoing photography show. The gallery and the artist shall remain unnamed as it does not make sense in pointing fingers. This little post was really written against a phenomenon that seems to be taking over a large majority of the galleries today. A movement that left unchecked (in my humble opinion) will diminish the allure of art to the ordinary individual on the street (who is already fighting trepidation before encountering the unknown at the gallery doorsteps). In addition, this phenomenon will tend to further ensconce art to a small batch of snobby so-called cultural elites swarming the same galleries. OK, enough of that and read the statement that provoked the post…

The somberness that is evoked from the futile endeavor of understanding the universe is elegantly juxtaposed by the hope of his young subjects and the humor of his oblivious non-human subjects. He captures youth and all of its questioning and vulnerable qualities through a mature and thoughtful eye without the compulsive sexualization and forced seediness that seems to saturate photography.

I read and re-read the statement a couple of times before I slipped into a drowsy torpor of intellectual amnesia spurred on by imaginary connections and perceived references that one needs to make in order to understand the context behind the work. It is almost as if we will need to extend or additionally exert intellectual capital simply to begin to understand what is being exhibited. Have we reached that complex a level of existence where one will have to go through an exercise in mind bending linguistic gymnastics in order to commune with the art?
This should not be the case - right? Art and the works shown at galleries should have a natural sense of giving, like a natural function – like a faucet gives us life supporting water - rather than forcibly demand from the viewer convoluted mental contortions to even approach them.

The statement below from the Feuilletons captures the situation rather well but for the fact that the author is writing from a different viewpoint, albeit, the same subject - the use of impenetrable phrases by the self appointed doyens of art – the art critics...

Artworks are undoubtedly social objects. They are produced and absorbed by people, they have an effect on the life of the individual as well as on culture as a whole, and at the same time they take on their meaning from the socio-historical environment in which they exist. But works of art are more than this, they possess their own qualities which raise them above the status of social things. They might be human products, artifacts, but unlike others which exhaust themselves in their utility value, they are marked out by a surplus, a quantum of non-utility. Art works 'are an end in themselves', art theory tells us. The refusal of the art work to be a means to an end stands it apart from us. Proud and exclusive it stands and faces us. whereas all other media offer themselves to us wholeheartedly so to speak: the newspaper to impart information; an essay, instruction; a football match, excitement; a cabaret, relaxation; and good wine, a lifting of the spirits. The art work claims the right not to have to fulfill needs, not to want to join the ranks of useful things. Instead of giving, it demands the exertion of the (perceiving) senses and the (understanding) intellect.

Yes, it is about time we went into a business of easing the rigor mortis inherent in artist statements lest art appreciation die as a result.

Karen Finley, 'I shot myself because I love you. If I had loved myself, I'd be shooting you'


Tree said...

When I worked on exhibitions, I swore to myself I'd never be this pretentious and stupid. Blech.

Sunil said...

Good to see you in these parts... Pretentious is the word!!

Michael said...

It's hard to write an artist statement that does not capitulate to this trend but still serves to inform and inspire. I gues that the key is honesty and self-awareness-- to be able to plainly state your intent. Charlatans indeed. All that hand waving helps to distract while they pick your pocket.